Designer: Klaus Zoch
Publisher: Capstone Games
Artist: Daan van Paridon, Thijs van Paridon
The City Council recently approved the zoning map for a new urban development — The Estates - featuring high-end infrastructure and a modern atmosphere for its citizens. Soon after, the banks awarded millions of dollars in loans to six real estate investment firms to help develop this new area.
The zoning map for The Estates calls for two rows of four buildings each, located between the River and Main Street. The meadows on the other side of the River are to remain a recreational area for the City.
But, with hopes of larger profits, investors and building tycoons entirely ignore the City Council's demands and begin developing three rows of buildings instead. The Mayor catches wind of the potential for profit and begins planning a new mansion in The Estates, which would double the value of one of the building rows!
With some sketchy building permits, investors begin developing buildings on the other side of the River, beyond the designated building zone. However, the City Council takes rigorous steps to put an end to the racketeering with an ultimatum: As soon as the first two rows are completed, the buildings in the uncompleted row will be torn down, resulting in a huge loss for all who invested there. At the end of the day, the investor with the highest-valued buildings will come out on top.
In The Estates each player takes on the role of a real estate investor hoping to make the most money during the construction of a new development which has recently been approved by the City Council.
At the beginning of the game the board is set up on the table and 24 floor cubes are chosen at random from the bag – which contains a total of 36 floor cubes.
These are placed in a grid of three by eight at random alongside the game board.
The 12 rooftops are also mixed up and placed face down alongside the board along with the building permits, cancel cube and the Mayor’s top hat.
Each player is also given a starting pool of 12no. million-dollars in cheques.
At its heart, The Estates is a simple auction game. On their turn the active player will choose a piece and put it up for auction, they might pick a floor cube, a rooftop, a building permit, the City Mayor, or the cancel cube. Floor cubes can only be taken from either end of a row in the pool meaning that there is a choice of six cubes which can be selected for auction each turn. The distribution of colours in the grid will be key, it may be that there are only certain colours available at the beginning of the game, with others coming into play later on.
In a clockwise fashion each player around the table in turn will either make a singular bid or opt to pass on the chosen piece. Once all players have had the chance to make bid or pass the active player must make a choice – to either accept the highest price and have the highest bidder pay this amount directly to them in exchange for the piece, or decide to pay the highest bidder their suggested amount to keep that piece for themselves to place. In the event that nobody decides to make a bid on the chosen piece, the active player gets to keep that piece and can place it themselves for free.
The first time a coloured floor cube comes up for auction, for example a red cube, you are not only bidding for that cube but are bidding to take control of the corresponding red company certificate and to be the person that scores for all future red cubes in the game. From this point onwards you will have an invested interest in where each of the red cube is placed for the rest of the game.
Players can own more than one company certificate and it is even entirely plausible that some players might never end up purchasing a company at all. This doesn’t mean their game is hopeless however, potentially quite the opposite.
If a player does not manage to purchase any company certificates, they will simply have to change their strategy. Instead of bidding on and purchasing cubes to place for their own benefit, they will instead purchase cubes and place them with the aim of messing with their rivals or in fact aiming to make sure that none of the rows are ever completed.
Floor cubes must be placed immediately after they are auctioned and should be placed number side up on the square development plots. Players may build in any of the 3 rows, but the first-floor cube in each row must be placed in the development lot directly adjacent to the street. Additional Floor cubes in a row must be placed either on top of or adjacent to another one in the same row. When placing a floor cube on top of an existing one, the one being placed must have a lower number than the cube directly below it.
The only variations from these placement rules is that the plots with sand base can only ever have one floor cube placed on them and players cannot build on or past a Building Permit.
During the game, every player may auction, bid, purchase, or place Floor cubes of ANY colour. Instead of buying a cube in the colour of a company that they own, the active player might instead choose to purchase a coloured cube belonging to another player and place it somewhere that will disadvantage that opponent.
Building Permits can also be chosen for auction and much the same as floor cubes these must be placed immediately after their auction. Building Permits can either shorten or lengthen the development requirement for one of the 3 rows in The Estates. These are placed on an empty development plot, from then on, the location of the placed Building Permit marks the new development requirement and a row will not be completed until all of the plots leading up to the building permit are filled. Alternatively, the winner of an auction for a building permit can chose to remove these from the game entirely.
Gameplay ends as soon as two of the development rows are completed (a completed row is when every plot in a street has a building, and every one of those building has a roof).
Scoring works in a number of ways in The Estates, every completed row scores points. For each individual building it is the person whose coloured block is highest in a building that scores all of the points for that building regardless of the coloured blocks underneath it. A row left incomplete means that all buildings in this row score negative points.
If the mayor was placed at the beginning of a completed row, that row scores double, however, if the Mayor was played to a row that is incomplete by the end of the game, players with buildings in that row gain double the amount of negative points for these buildings.
The economy in The Estates is closed, new money never enters the game – and only ever passes between the players via the auctions. The only way money can ever leave the game is though embezzlement.
At the beginning of a players turn before holding an auction the active player makes the choice as to whether they want to stow away $1 million into their personal embezzlement fund.
If they choose to do so the player takes one of their cheques and places it under the edge of the game board in front of them.
Money stashed in this way may not be used for the remainder of the game and may never be inspected by other players. At the end of the game each million-dollar cheque in a player’s embezzlement fund is worth 1 victory point. Money in hand, however, does not count towards final scoring.
It is entirely plausible that a game of The Estates might end up with every player in negative points. A game which initially seems it is centred around becoming the most successful and rich real estate investor can in fact a game of not being the one who is worst off by the end of the game.
So, what do we think of The Estates?
We absolutely love The Estates; we would even go as far as to say that it is one of our favourite games at the moment.
The randomisation of the set up means that there is a lot of replay-ability, the game is relatively easy to learn once you get to grips with the placement rules.
The component quality is fantastic, and we really love the look and style of the board; the bold coloured blocks and how they contrast beautifully against the building site landscape below. The chunky building blocks have a great quality to them, this is no surprise considering the plush quality of Capstone Games previous release of 2003 The Climbers.
Simply Complex also included a screen-printed design on each block that adds a unique pattern for each colour to enable players with colour impairment to differentiate the blocks. While we don’t suffer from colour impairment ourselves, we really love to see when publishers take this kind of thing into consideration.
One of our favourite design elements in the game is the 1 million dollar cheques, each one of the 60 cheques in the game is personalised with a name and custom signature of the Kickstarter backers who pledged within a certain bracket in the campaign. It really gives the game an additional flair of personality.
There is a large amount of player interaction in the game. Everybody around the table is always involved - even on other players turns due to the auction element; an unusual but fantastic benefit which means that there is very little downtime during the entire game.
The Estates has a very tense feeling to it throughout, it is exciting to play. It is filled with tons of strategy and there are so many different tactics you can employ to switch up the game play meaning that no two games are ever the same.
The Estates has a very tense feeling to it throughout, it is exciting to play. It is filled with tons of strategy and there are so many different tactics you can employ to switch up the game-play meaning that no two games are ever the same.
Choosing which item to put up for auction can be tricky. Do you pick something you want that will benefit your own strategy in the game, or do you go for something that you know your opponent desperately needs meaning that they are likely willing to pay a hefty price? Alternatively, you could purchase something that another player needs with a mind to mess with their strategy! A single well-placed piece can sometimes see a player go from at the top of the leader board right down into last place.
Something that we find so exciting about The Estates is the way you can flip the game on its head, by not investing in any of the companies at all you can instead work against the other players to try and ensure that they gain negative points while you steadily tick over by stashing money away in your own embezzlement fund. It’s a fine balance, but it can be a lot of fun experimenting with new ways to play the game.
Surprisingly often the winner of a game is actually the person who spent the majority of the game playing to sabotage the other players instead of working towards buying their own companies and developing their own buildings.
With this at the forefront of your mind The Estates probably isn’t a game that you want to pull off the shelf with someone who is new to the hobby. Though the game does have some cooperative elements (players often end up working together to try and complete a row when they both have an invested interest), there are a lot of “take that” mechanics. The player you find yourself working with at the beginning of the game, well – they might not be quite so supportive as the game draws to its end.
There is one key thing to keep in mind any time you reach for this game. The Estates can be mean, REALLY mean. As long as players go into the game knowing this it can be a lot of fun.
After all, it isn’t personal right?! It’s just business!